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Leverett Gleason's start in the comic industry was not unlike that of many of the very earliest editors at Marvel or DC. His first major publication, United Features Syndicate's Tip Top (1936), was concerned with putting out comics that reprinted material already seen in newspapers.
By 1939, however, he had gone to work on Silver Streak, an original anthology. While not originally his magazine, by issue #3, he had gained complete control over the magazine, and Lev Gleason Publications was born.
He, with the help of Arthur Bernhardt—the man from whom he had bought Silver Streak Comics—went on to nudge Silver Streak into more adult areas of storytelling. By issue #11, though, Silver Streak had been entirely changed, new publications were in the works, and Bernhardt's influence all but ended.
By the early 1940s, Gleason was beginning to hit his stride. The stories he was publishing were aimed much more at adults than they were children. They tended to be morality plays which had a decidedly realistic view of society. Often, they were inspired by actual police records. Gleason even stopped referring to them as comics, preferring instead the word, "illustories".
His decision to err on the side of realism made him money. By the mid 1940s, he was a very popular publisher, with sales topping 2 million.
But his popularity attracted the attention of two government agencies.
One was the House Un-American Committee, who noted that both his comics and non-comics publications seemed "commie influenced" because of their strong social conscience. Indeed he was held in contempt of HUAC for refusing to hand over subpoenaed documents. Other than the contempt charge, though, this investigation failed to produce any substantiated allegations against him. Indeed, it may well have boosted his sales.
The second brush with a Congressional Committee, though, put him out of business. When the Senate held its inquiries pursuant to Frederic Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent report, Gleason's title Crime Does Not Pay was a prime target. It had grown so realistic that it regularly featured stories involving great violence. Though these stories were probably no worse than what today would be an average episode of C.S.I. or Law & Order, at the time they were exactly what the Senate Committee decried.
Gleason, despite having been a founding member of the Association of Comic Magazine Publishers which self-policed comic books prior to the introduction of the Comic Code Authority, was forced completely out of business by mid-1955.
For a period of a little more than a decade, though, his intelligent comics introduced the burgeoning art form to a market of teen-agers and young adults that were a little too old for the Superman-dominated comics of the day. They demonstrated how the medium could be used not just to entertain, but to capture a snapshot of society as it was. And he created an entire stable of popular characters that remained under his sole control. To this day, they've never appeared in DC or Marvel comics (though Marvel stole the name "Daredevil" from him).
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